HOW TO FORGIVE YOURSELF FOR A BIG MISTAKE—EVEN IF NO ONE ELSE WILL
Editor’s Note: Well+Good, a website launched in 2010, bills itself as “the premier lifestyle and news publication devoted to the wellness scene.” Here are excerpts from its March 12, 2018 article on how to forgive yourself, let go of the past, and create a more meaningful feature.
You messed up big-time. You feel awful and you want to make things right with the person you’ve hurt. You’ve finally worked up the courage to say, from the bottom of your heart, that you’re deeply sorry. But—surprise!—they don’t want to hear it. For them, the damage is done and their anger towards you is too strong for any kind of forgiveness.
It can be devastating for an apology to be denied, but another person’s forgiveness of you and your actions doesn’t have to determine how you continue to treat others—and, ultimately, yourself. Of course, that’s no easy task for many, considering we’re infinitely harder on ourselves than anyone else.
“I forgive” really is one of the most powerful phrases in the English language. Aly Semigran, Well+Good
“When we break our own standards, a lot of times we won’t let ourselves ‘off the hook,’ so to speak,” says Robert Enright, PhD, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute and author of Forgiveness Is a Choice. “Self-forgiveness is not a free pass to keep up the nonsense. It’s to restore your humanity to yourself, as you correct [the damage you’ve done].”
Okay, but how?
Apologize without expectations
Even if you don’t think the hurt party will forgive you, Enright says that apologizing is the right thing to do, and it’s an important step in the process of self-forgiveness. “Seeking forgiveness and forgiving yourself go hand in hand,” proclaims Enright.
Make an effort to right your wrongs
You should also make an effort to right your wrongs—for instance, paying your roommate back if you’ve been sneaking money from her wallet. “You can set yourself free knowing you’ve done the best you can,” says Enright. “You can get rid of the resentment towards yourself, understanding that you are a human being, and try to see you’re a person beyond what you’ve done. You’re more than that action.”
Dive deep into your emotions with a therapist, friend, or journaling
The cycle of guilt and self-loathing is far too easy a place to get stuck, sometimes for a very long time. And it can have a serious impact on your health—when you stay trapped in a shame loop, it can lead to issues such as sleeplessness, depression, self-medication, and lack of proper nutrition and/or exercise. (Not to mention it’s a blow to your gut health.)
Enright suggests those on a journey of self-forgiveness try things such as going to a respected therapist, seeking out a friend or confidante, trying meditation or mindfulness, or journaling to deal with ongoing emotions and thoughts.
Don’t get attached to the outcome
While you’re working to forgive yourself, it’s important not to get stuck on the other person’s reaction to you. “Your forgiving yourself should never be [contingent on] what the other person does or says,” Enright says. “It’s the same thing with forgiving another: If I want to forgive another, but I have to wait for their apology, then I’m still trapped in that resentment.”
You don’t have to sabotage your own happiness when you do something terrible. Learn to forgive yourself.
Read the entire article: How to Forgive Yourself for a Big Mistake
Read other forgiveness articles on Well+Good:
- THE TWO MOST-EMPOWERING WORDS YOU CAN ADD TO YOUR VOCABULARY
- HOW PRACTICING FORGIVENESS À LA TAYLOR SWIFT AND KATY PERRY CAN BENEFIT YOUR WELL-BEING
- TO SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS, PRACTICE THE F-WORD: FORGIVENESS
Son Forgives Abusive Father Who Fractured the Boy’s Skull 14 Times in 3 Years
Ciril Čuš, who grew up during the ’60s in Žetale, a small Slovenian parish on the border of Croatia, comes from a traditional Catholic family with two brothers and a sister. But there was nothing traditional about his childhood, his abusive father who nearly beat him to death, and his long journey down the path to forgiveness.
Ciril’s father worked as a builder and one day took a fall from 16 feet, spending a month in a coma. After the accident, he wasn’t the same. He started drinking, becoming very aggressive — and young Ciril was often the target. Between the ages of 7 and 10, Ciril’s head was fractured with a blunt object 14 times.
When his father was sober, he was a wonderful man; he taught his children a lot. But when he was drunk, he wasn’t safe to be around.
Ciril had to escape through the window several times and spent many nights in the barn. He was afraid to sleep because he had terrible nightmares. He had learning difficulties and barely finished school. When he was 10, he contemplated suicide. At 12, he took a job picking produce so he could get away from home and pay for his education. At 14, he wanted to run away from home but felt he had nowhere to go.
The abuse and distance from his father led Ciril to take up karate in school. Determined to prove himself — and protect himself — he won the national Slovenian kickboxing championship and became a kung fu coach.
After secondary school, Ciril got a job and moved to a nearby town. But, with a lot of time on his hands, he would often visit the local library. It was there that he started reading the Bible. ”I was drawn to the word of God, more and more every day.”
Convinced by a neighbor to accompany him to a Sunday church service, Ciril was revulsed by what he saw as the antics of the charismatic worshippers and he decided never to enter a church again. But his friend convinced him to try it a second time and that was when he heard a woman speaking about her husband who beat her and cheated on her, but she was still able to forgive him.
“For the first time in my life, I realized what my biggest problem was — that I was not able to forgive my father.” Ciril remembers. “I was so angry that I even considered killing him.”
In order to be able to forgive, a priest suggested that Ciril pray so he prayed a Rosary for his father every day and even made a solemn promise to God that he would pray until he could forgive his father. After a year and a half he realized that prayer alone was not enough, that he had to go to his father and tell him he forgave him.
Although he was somehow able to generate the courage to go meet with his father, there was no mutual forgiveness but from that point on Ciril prayed two rosaries a day instead of one.
After three years of praying, Ciril approached his father again. He apologized for everything he had done wrong. He told him that he was his only father and he loved him very much. In response, his father grabbed a knife and shouted, “I will kill you like a pig!” Ciril escaped while his father ran to the garage to get a chain saw. Ciril’s response: he began praying three rosaries a day instead of two.
Nine months and more than 800 rosaries later, Ciril learned that his father was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, coughing up blood and that his doctors told him he only had a month to live. Determined to forgive him before his father died, Ciril approached him once again.
“I took his hand, looked him in the eyes, told him I forgave him, that I was sorry for everything, and that I loved him,” Ciril recalls. “I held his head close to my heart. It was the first time in my life that I hugged my father.”
From that moment on, Ciril’s father stopped drinking and peace returned to the family. For the first time ever, Ciril saw his father embrace his mother and heard him tell his brothers and his sister that he loved them. His father lived another 16 years.
”Once I forgave, I was happy, joyful. This real encounter with God is more powerful than any hatred, curse, suffering or distress,” says Ciril. He never stopped praying, either. Today he is a parish priest in a small Slovenian town.
Ciril now says he realizes that he had to walk his path of suffering to be able to understand and help people who go through similar experiences. His life bears a powerful witness. He travels a lot around the world, witnessing about his experience of forgiveness.
”If we do not forgive, we stop God’s blessing from entering and God cannot work within us” Ciril says. “Forgiveness means establishing a new relationship with another person. And that is a great gift from God. But everyone has his own path. Sometimes it takes a long time.”
Read the full story: His father abused him, fracturing his skull 14 times, but he was still able to forgive – Aleteia, June 6, 2018
Aleteia (aleteia.org) is an online publication distributed in eight languages (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, Polish and Slovenian). Its website “offers a Christian vision of the world by providing general and religious content that is free from ideological influences.” With more than 430,000 subscribers to its newsletter and more than 3 million fans on Facebook, Aleteia reaches more than 11 million unique visitors a month.
The “F Word” for Sexual Abuse Survivors: Is Forgiveness Possible?
A Guest Blog by Dr. Suzanne Freedman
Editor’s Note: Forgiveness for sexual abuse survivors is a sensitive and controversial subject that is being addressed by Suzanne Freedman, Ph.D., Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Dr. Freedman has studied and conducted forgiveness research with Dr. Robert Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute. Her dissertation was a landmark study that was published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology on Forgiveness with Incest Survivors. This is a summary of a blog Dr. Freedman wrote that was posted earlier this month on the website “And He Restoreth My Soul.”
To view the complete blog, click here.
The idea of forgiveness for sexual abuse survivors is often met with surprise, skepticism, and even horror. However, past research with forgiveness illustrates that forgiveness education and/or forgiveness counseling can be healing for those who have experienced past sexual abuse.
Freedman & Enright (1996) conducted an individual educational intervention using forgiveness as the goal with 12 incest survivors. Results illustrated that post intervention individuals were more forgiving toward their abusers, had decreased anxiety and depression and increased hope for the future as well as greater self-esteem compared to those who had not experienced the forgiveness education and themselves preintervention (see Freedman & Enright, 1996). Research with other populations who have experienced deep hurt also illustrates increased forgiveness as well as greater psychological well-being post intervention.
When discussing the topic of forgiveness for survivors of sexual abuse, it is important to be clear about what exactly is meant by forgiveness, specifically what forgiveness is and is not. . . According to Enright (2001) and North (1987), forgiveness can be defined as “a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and negative behavior toward one who unjustly injured us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity and sometimes even love toward him or her”.
Notice in the definition that one has a “right” to feel resentment because of the way she or he was injured and that the offender does not “deserve” our compassion and generosity based on his or her actions. Forgiveness can also be more simply defined as a decrease in negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors toward an offender and perhaps, over time, a gradual increase in more positive thoughts, feelings and sometimes even behaviors toward an offender can occur.
Why Forgive? Many survivors of sexual abuse often ask, “Why do I need to forgive? Why do I need to do all the work? I didn’t do anything wrong.” Of course, this is true but when one forgives, they are personally benefiting by freeing themselves of anger, bitterness, and resentment. . . . Forgiveness allows one to free themselves of negative feelings as well as find meaning in the worst of life’s event. It is also a selfless and compassionate act as one who forgives is helping to stop the cycle of revenge and hatred. Using a compassionate and generous heart to meet deep pain and hurt is one of the most difficult things to do. However, by doing so you are freeing yourself from the prison of anger and power the abuser has over you.
The points below illustrate how forgiveness is not the same as accepting or pardoning the sexual abuse, reconciliation, being weak, denying one’s anger or giving up, nor does it mean that justice cannot occur:
- Forgiveness does not mean that you deny or excuse the offender of the wrongdoing. . . .
- Forgiveness takes time. . . .
- Forgiveness is a choice one makes for her or himself. . . .
- Forgiveness does not mean Reconciliation. . . .
- Forgiveness can occur in the absence of an apology. . . .
- Forgiveness and justice are not mutually exclusive. . . .
- Forgiveness does not mean Forgetting. . . .
Research supports forgiveness education and therapy as an effective form of treatment for those who have endured deep hurts such as sexual abuse and incest. Forgiveness leads to decreases in stress, anger, anxiety and depression (Enright, 2001). People who are able to forgive also are more hopeful, optimistic, and compassionate towards others. Forgiveness has physical heath benefits as well. Research illustrates decreased blood pressure, muscle tension and headaches in those who have forgiven.
I wrote this blog to describe how forgiveness can be healing for individuals who have been deeply, personally and unfairly hurt by acts of sexual abuse and incest. Forgiveness is an individual choice, and as such, we need to offer that choice to survivors of sexual abuse by accurately informing them about what it means to forgive, including what forgiveness is and is not, as well as respecting and supporting them when they choose to forgive.
This is a summary of a blog by Dr. Suzanne Freedman that was posted earlier this month on the website “And He Restoreth My Soul.” To view the complete blog, click here.
For more information on how to go about forgiving and the benefits of forgiveness please check out the following resources:
Enright, R.D. (2001). Forgiveness Is a Choice. Washington, D.C. APA Life Tools.
Enright, R. D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2000). Helping Clients Forgive: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope. Washington D.C., American Psychological Association.
Freedman, S. & Enright, R. D. (1996). Forgiveness as an Intervention Goal With Incest Survivors. Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology, 64, 983-992.
Smedes, L. B. (1996). The Art of Forgiving. Nashville, TN: Moorings.
Malcom, W., DeCourville, N., & Belicki, K. (2007). Women’s reflections on the complexities of forgiveness. New York, New York: Routledge: Taylor & Francis Group.
“Become My Son”: A South African Mother’s Response to the Man Who Murdered Both Her Son and Her Husband
After Apartheid ended in South Africa, a white police officer named Mr. Van der Boek was put on trial. The court found that he had come to a woman’s home, shot her son at point-blank range, and then burned the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers partied nearby. The woman’s husband was killed by the same men, and his body also was burned.
Unfathomable Cruelty and Indignity
I can’t fathom the source or the energy needed to fuel such cruelty. But more unfathomable is the surviving woman’s response (the mother of the son and wife to the husband murdered and burned). What must she have thought and felt as she sat in the court room being burdened and re-traumatized by evidence?
A member of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission turned to her and asked, “So, what do you want? How should justice be done for this man?”
How is Justice to be done?
That’s the right question, isn’t it? What is justice; how can it be achieved; how does it look different from mere retribution and punishment? But the judge asked “how should justice be done for this man?” – not – “for this surviving woman.”
What would this wife & mother say in the face of such murderous cruelty that further caused indignity to her husband’s and son’s remains?
“I want three things,” the woman said confidently:
“I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial. My husband and son were my only family.”
Become My Son!?
“I want, secondly, for Mr. Van der Boek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.”
This is truly a breathtaking request. We can finish her sentence starting with “I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I . . .” – fill in the blank!
- So I can get him to feel the crushing poverty I live with.
- So I can have him feel the full void of my loss with no husband or son.
- So I can have him feel every distrusting eye scrutinize him as the minority in our community.
But no; she finishes her request with “so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have.” How much love does she still have?
And I could not find if Mr. Van der Boek could possibly receive such love. Did he come out, as she asked, twice a month to spend the day with her for the sole purpose of receiving what ever love she may still possess?
“And finally, I would like Mr. Van der Boek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van der Boek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”
From Michael Wakely, Can It Be True? A Personal Pilgrimage through Faith and Doubt.
Forgiveness cannot be demanded
I am not naive enough to think that it’s all good in South Africa, or that forgiveness should be given because it is expected, or that forgiveness should be given because it does as much to release the forgiver as it does the forgiven (for a contrasting view, read “You may free apartheid killers but you can’t force victims to forgive“). But as the woman in the above noted story alluded, forgiveness is possible when we recognize our own status as forgiven people.
This blog is reposted with permission from R.H. (Rusty) Foerger.
Visit his website: More Enigma Than Dogma
Related blogs by Rusty Foerger:
Forgiveness: 3 Misconceptions
When I began 30 years ago to apply social scientific methods to the ancient moral virtue of forgiveness, my students and I ran into a rather large problem. People were afraid to forgive. When we probed this fear, we began to realize a common theme across the fearful. They equated forgiving with automatically and dutifully going back into abusive situations. “My spouse denigrates me. If I forgive, then I go back for more……but I do not want to go back for more. Thus, I will not forgive.”
It took us a while, but eventually we saw that to forgive is not the same as to reconcile. Forgiveness, as with justice and patience and kindness, is a virtue, originating inside people as an insight (I can be good to those who are not good to me) and as a feeling of empathy and compassion for the offending other, not because of the offense but in spite of it. Forgiving behaviors flow from the insight and compassion.
Reconciliation, on the other hand, is a behavioral negotiation strategy in which two or more people come together again in mutual trust. You can forgive and not trust a person in their weak areas (you do not lend money to the compulsive gambler even though you can try to be good to the person in other ways as a sign of forgiving). You can forgive and not reconcile at all if the other remains abusive.
Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. This insight opened the door for social scientific work on forgiveness for us because to forgive is not to create unsafe situations for the forgiver.
We now turn to two, what I call, Modern Misconceptions, the latest critiques of forgiveness, particularly Forgiveness Therapy, a new form of psychotherapy which emerged from the research journey begun three decades ago (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2015). These Modern Misconceptions are quite different from the early misconception because they target forgiveness itself—not fear—and are highly critical of this potentially life-changing virtue, even if practiced well and with patience.
Modern Misconception 1 goes something like this: You who advocate for Forgiveness Therapy or Forgiveness Education with students (Enright, Rhody, Litts, & Klatt, 2014) ask way too much of forgivers. You ask them to bear the burden of their own healing and that is not fair. They already have been hurt so why ask them now to struggle after forgiveness?
Two burdens are theirs: the original offense and now Forgiveness Therapy. Yet, as with the equating of forgiveness with reconciliation, this Modern Misconception has an error embedded within it. It is not at all an added and unnecessary burden to help a person, whose heart is broken, to forgive.
Take a physical analogy to make the point clear. Suppose James pushes Jeremy to the ground, dislocating his shoulder. Is it unwise now to ask Jeremy to enter into a rehabilitation process to repair the shoulder? Is it an added burden we should never ask because he is hurting? It would seem that the unfairness lies, not in the encouraging of medical treatment, but the reverse—discouraging it because it will be rigorous and painful.
Is it not the same with Forgiveness Therapy for those who choose it? The heart is broken, yes, because of the original unfairness. If the person chooses rehab of the heart—Forgiveness Therapy—isn’t this repair good even though rigorous and painful? The Modern Misconception might keep people from rehab of the heart and so it needs to be challenged.
Modern Misconception 2 has emerged from my giving 13 invited forgiveness talks in an area of the world plagued by a land dispute that is disrupting individual, family, community, and political peace. The misconception unfolds this way: You say that forgiveness is good, but how will it get my land back? It will not get my land back. Therefore, forgiveness is weak and ineffective. I will have nothing to do with it.
My response is to give a multiple choice question to the skeptic. Which of these two would you rather have:
- You live for the rest of your life without getting your land back and you also live with a deep anger that disrupts your inner life and the life of those around you; or,
- You live for the rest of your life without getting your land back and you are free of the deep anger that disrupts you, your loved ones, and your community?
Which do you choose? In every case across the 13 lectures, the skeptic ends up choosing answer (B), living without the debilitating resentment. It is at that point that the person is willing to explore the subtleties of forgiveness without dismissing it. Such exploration could, in the long run, save lives from psychological devastation. The error in Modern Misconception 2 occurs when the person focuses exclusively on the original problem (land dispute) without even realizing that a second, just as serious, problem has emerged because of the land dispute—resentment entrenched in the heart. Forgiveness can cure this second problem while not being able to solve the original problem. Without seeing this, the person rejects forgiveness as weak.
Misconceptions…..they can drive a person away from forgiveness or become a stimulus for more thoroughly exploring what forgiveness has to offer. Left unexplored, the Modern Misconceptions could leave some people without a path of healing that could have been theirs……if only they had explored more deeply.
Posted in Psychology Today February 18, 2017
- Enright, R.D. & Fitzgibbons, R. (2015). Forgiveness therapy. Washington, DC: APA Books.
- Enright, R.D. , Rhody, M., Litts, B., & Klatt. J.S. (2014). Piloting forgiveness education in a divided community: Comparing electronic pen-pal and journaling activities across two groups of youth. Journal of Moral Education, 43, 1-17.